Jacksonville, FL — There are lessons to be learned.
With the start of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season, JEA is hoping you're thinking back to the last storm season and using that to get yourself ready for the "above average" season that's been forecast. They've identified their own lessons learned and have made changes to try to keep your power going.
“We are very confident that, should we get another Matthew, we will perform significantly better,” says JEA CEO Paul McElroy.
McElroy says they've identified many areas where there response to Matthew performed well, including that they successfully tapped more mutual aid crews to help power restoration than ever in JEA's history, coordinated with City and County resources, and that there was no supply chain problem- meaning no service restorations were delayed because they didn't have the needed supplies on hand. He further believes JEA restoring service within days of the storm was reasonable, but acknowledges the big communication breakdown which led customers to expect service back even sooner.
Soon after Matthew hit, JEA gave a very quick turnaround time to restore the widespread outages. McElroy says they had a good assessment of the main thoroughfares, but didn’t realize the extent of the tree canopy damage that hit lines along the secondary and tertiary routes. Now, McElroy says JEA has contracted a helicopter to use in the immediate aftermath of a major storm, and they have drone technology available as well.
“Be able to get a good overview of the entire service territory and look at the affected areas,” he says.
JEA has used aerial assessment from time to time for normal system reviews, but McElroy says they haven’t had that under contract for a decade or so. He believes if they had that resource after Matthew, they would have given more reasonable estimates.
“We would have been able to plan a little bit better. I don’t think we would have been able to restore power any quicker, but we would have been able to communicate more effectively,” he says.
Another noticeable shortfall in the aftermath of Matthew was the dozens of sanitary sewage overflows that took place, sending sewage in to streets and waterways. McElroy has said from the start that the problem was not the capacity of the system- which gets high marks in "blue sky" conditions- but rather with some of the stations having electric failures. To address that, JEA will now have many mobile generators prepositioned in areas where vulnerabilities may exist.
To address both the sewage and electric problems, McElroy says they've further reviewed where they focus their vegetation management- making sure to trim around certain lines and clear debris from around certain sewage stations. That's a minor step in what's been a long-running investment- McElroy says JEA spends $20 million annually on new poles and cabling to strengthen the power distribution system.
JEA is still developing a more long term plan to increase sustainability in the sewer system, but McElroy is comfortable with the steps that have been taken.
“We got to everything we can and plan to this year. The next phase will be- how do we build out the system and refurbish the system over the next decade to deal with climate events like this,” he says.
While JEA is doing what they can to ensure the best response possible for this storm season, they're also urging you to be personally prepared. Some of the tips detailed on JEA's website include trimming trees in your yard, knowing your flood zone and whether that zone is prone to evacuation, and having supplies including a battery powered radio, water, food, and similar items.